Colourful eye-liner, check. Paan-stained fingers, check. Colourful, kitschy attire… check.
Bas! We have the staple small-town romantic comedy.
Jabariya Jodi is the sort of film that seems to have been birthed in a producer’s money-making lab. With Parineeti Chopra and Siddharth Malhotra being the hamsters on wheel, aimlessly running round and round.
Before we start, it needs to be established that this piece isn’t emerging out of empty hate. As someone who has been following the work of both these actors for a better part of this decade, there’s only so much mediocre-to-bad work one can digest. This isn’t a thoughtless, vicious attack. It’s only meant to dissect their process or… the lack of it. No one’s suggesting what they do is easy, it’s bloody hard to hypnotise a full-house theatre. But even if the end product doesn’t land, the least one can hope to see is the right intent.
With his (supposed) good intentions, for Sidharth Malhotra it all seems to culminate into a <blank stare>. His character has mysteriously woken up in the future? Is he a time-traveller? <blank stare>. There’s many years of harboured bitterness against his successful brother? <blank stare> He could simply walk across the room and resolve the thin central conflict of Jabariya Jodi, saving us an additional hour of dull plotting, and… <blank stare>.
It’s debatable whether Sidharth Malhotra is the worst actor working in Hindi films, given Bollywood’s low bar. However, he is definitely one of the most reluctant leading men out there. Where does this reluctance to fully submit to a film’s milieu stem from? He chews paan, dons the tacky-looking printed shirts, he tries to do a Bihari accent (considering his South Delhi antecedents)… and something’s always off. Is it conviction? Also, what does it tell you about the director, who ‘O.K’s these takes. Can’t they see it’s not working?
When Ekta Kapoor announced a film with Sidharth Malhotra jumping on to the ‘small town’ bandwagon, there’s a good chance that many people might have sneered at the casting decision. And this performance just goes on to validate all that doubt. While Ranveer Singh nails his smarmy lines in a Kathiawadi accent and Sushant Singh Rajput internalises the (rather difficult) Bundelkhandi, Sidharth Malhotra is astonishingly below par. He doesn’t even manage to reach Varun Dhawan’s passable-for-a-Hindi-film U.P accent in Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya. Malhotra seems to think that a tattoo, colourful sunglasses a la Raja Babu and a chillum can be substitutes for personality. He even manages the amazing feat of making colourful Bihari dialogue sound like an A.I language.
Coming to the other half of the film’s lead pair, whatever happened to the boisterous Parineeti Chopra from Ladies vs Ricky Bahl? Starting out as the best thing about a blah-what-is-the-point-of-this film, she has been reduced to a shadow of herself. All that effort to fit into the ‘leading lady’ mould seem to have cost Parineeti Chopra dearly. The confidence she showed in Ishaqzaade has now dribbled to something hollow and insipid. Apart from being a ‘support system’ in the star vehicles like Golmaal Again or Kesari, Chopra has even failed to make a mark in roles where she has author-backed characters like Meri Pyaari Bindu or this.
In Jabariya Jodi, Chopra’s Babli Yadav is the most tiresome version of Bollywood’s ‘free-spirited-girl-from-a-small-town’ template. She ticks all the boxes of rebellion – addressing her father by his first name (that quirky father-daughter relationship), taking on bullies using expletives and/or kicking ass and even chilling with her gang on a terrace. Jabariya Jodi is so lazy and generic in its treatment of its leading lady that it doesn’t bother about offering a single memorable moment to her during its running time of nearly 140 minutes.
Both Sidharth Malhotra and Parineeti Chopra are in a position where chances for redemption doesn’t seem to be drying out soon. Malhotra will next be seen in the biopic of Kargil martyr, Vikram Batra and Chopra is starring in the official Hindi remake of The Girl In The Train (the original featured an unsettling central performance by Emily Blunt). Maybe it’s time for these two actors to introspect about what they want, and how they’re going to go about it. But for that, they need to be less lazy about their first job – acting. For a film whose title roughly translates to ‘forced couple’, it was important for this lead pair to break free. Sadly, they’re still caged in Bollywood stereotypes. The 2014 versions of them.